Most of us stop at some point and take stock of our lives, searching for ways to increase happiness, success, and wealth. Undoubtedly, guides to self-improvement, fitness regimes, and financial planners can all help create a greater sense of comfort and confidence. But what about the role our surroundings play? The color of our office walls, the placement of our beds, the amount of light in the kitchen, the location of our gardens? According to the theory of feng shui, these are factors that affect us in quiet, but important, ways. So what, exactly, is feng shui? Many of us are familiar with the phrase and perhaps some of its decorating applications, such as color choice, bed placement, and the importance of natural lighting, which is to be expected, since in America feng shui was initially popularized by interior decorators. However, the theory extends back some 5,000 years and was created by ancient Chinese scholars who observed that some living and business spaces were more fortuitous than others. A method of practical application grew from their conclusions, built on the goal of maximizing the potential in one’s life for well being, contentment, and luck. It’s all about maximizing the flow of beneficial, positive energy into the home and keeping negative energy out. By using subtle design techniques, feng shui can create environments that stimulate positive energy and increase prosperity and good health, says Janus Welton, an architect with over 14 years of experience in classical feng shui. Welton is the design principal of Eco-Arch DesignWorks in Woodstock, and also works as a consultant and instructor at the New York School of Feng Shui in Manhattan. Many people, she says, apply feng shui principles to their homes out of a desire for a deeper connection to their living spaces, and also as a way of addressing relationship, health, and money issues. Where’s the best place to begin? If you’re looking to make some simple, basic changes requiring little economic output, focus your energies on removing clutter. Welton recommends starting with the basement, a place many of us fill with forgotten, unused, or unwanted items. By donating, recycling, or throwing out what is only occupying space, that space is in turn opened up for new possibilities. Those stacks of junk mail, magazines, books, and papers serve only to stall the flow of positive energy throughout and between the rooms of your home. So get rid of them! Since the goal of feng shui is to attract positive energy into your home and life, another area to take into consideration is the entryway. A bright, cheerful color is best for the front door. In fact, says Welton, “Chinese red is very auspicious.” Attach a set of chimes or bells to the door; their sounds will serve as notice of visitors and their tones are more soothing than a harsh doorbell or a clunky doorknocker. Make sure the steps are swept and the area is well lit and tidy, with clear, easy-to-read house numbers. Inside, turn your attention to the foyer. This is an important part of the house, says Welton, as it is from here that beneficial energy will circulate to the rest of your living space. Plenty of light, either natural or artificial, and walls painted in soothing shades, like russet and copper, will impart an inviting, warm air to your visitors. The kitchen is a vital part of any home. “In feng shui, the kitchen symbolizes nourishment and support,” says Welton. As in the rest of the house, keep the clutter down by tossing out all those old, unused kitchen implements, and try not to fill the shelves with knickknacks. Interestingly, Welton suggests placing a mirror behind the stove, which works to “increase prosperity and allow the cook to see what is going on behind.” When cooking, it is important that the chef’s attention be focused on the food. So the mirror helps maintain a sense of awareness about the entire kitchen environment, without distracting the chef’s energy from the food-preparation process. Most importantly, make sure that ventilation is adequate, in order to let fresh air in and all those good cooking smells out (a surefire way of making any home more appealing!). And don’t forget plenty of natural lighting and to use nontoxic cleaning products. For the home office, desk placement is key. Always try to have your back toward a wall, your desk looking out over the room, with a clear view of the door. If back-to-the-door is the only option, place a mirror in front of you to avoid surprises (as in the kitchen scenario, above). Buy well-built, ergonomic chairs, and paint walls in calming shades of green and blue or rejuvenating tones of yellow. Of course, organization is especially important in this area, so find a system that works for you and strive to maintain an uncluttered space. Make sure the room has plenty of light and use air filters to keep things clean and moving. The office is an ideal place to use aromatherapy, Welton says, since it “can stimulate a fatigued mind and soothe frayed nerves.” What about the master bedroom? Several of the ideas mentioned above are echoed here. Again, no clutter: There’s nothing like a pile of stressful “to-do’s” to interfere with a good night’s sleep. Position the head of your bed against a wall, with a direct view of the doorway. Aromatherapy, natural fiber bedding, and air filters will all contribute positively in this room. Try using soothing shades of soft peach or pale for the walls and window treatments. If you’re just beginning to generate ideas for that dream house, consider the structural applications of feng shui. Ideally, says Welton, the best place to start is from the ground up, before construction even begins. As with the interior suggestions above, the same overall goals are in place—to encourage luck, harmony, health, and success—but the energy flow is chiefly considered from the geographical standpoint. When visiting a site before construction is to begin, Welton considers many factors, such as the best location for the house in that particular landscape and the placement of pools, ponds, and landforms like mountains and lakes. Where the home is placed along a road can have implications for positive energy attraction: Dead ends, forks, and T intersections are all to be avoided, and it’s best to have a “mountain form” behind the house, to impart a sense of protective energy. When creating architectural or design plans for a house, Welton suggests working in a little feng shui. For the kitchen, incorporate as much natural material into the design as possible; stone, wood, and tile are all good choices. The shape of the kitchen should be square, and the best placement is in the northeast direction. Offices should face towards the east, so as to benefit from the rising, fresh energy of the sun each morning, and to avoid the harshness of the afternoon light. Bedrooms should be placed at the back of the house, where they are furthest from the front door. And that brightly painted front door should face east. “Feng shui is a part of placemaking and making homes, and a deeper way of being green and ecological,” says Welton. So as you embark upon that kitchen renovation, weekend clean-up, landscaping project, or major home construction, remember to step back, take a deep breath, and make room for the positive energy to flow.